Will modernity kill epic poetry Why

Museum of Modern Poetry

That sat.

J. Alfred Prufrock's love song

Come on, we go, you and I, / when the evening is stretched out in the sky / like a sick person with aesthetic deafness on a table; / come, we go away through the half-empty streets, / the dull refuge / restless, discarded nights in barracks / and filthy restaurants for feasting oysters: / streets that make you feel like an annoying argument / that knows every tricky thing / lead to overwhelming questions ... / Oh, don't ask 'I beg your pardon?', / come on, we're going on rounds. / women come and go and chat so / hence by Michelangelo

Today it is hard to imagine what effect back then, say, 1960, such harmless verses and such simple words could still trigger. Hermetic poems, of all things, dark, incomprehensible and - apparently therefore - provocative. They could be used in a targeted manner, the effect was guaranteed, on Sundays, at lunch in the middle-class family, at school, at universities.

Women come and go and gossip so / hence from Michelangelo.

A common currency. With that we, the young, could really get back on them, the old. Such small, harmless poems set off like explosive devices in common sense. They were made with that in mind, however. They were meant to be.

Station concert

No more breathing. The firmament full of maggots. / The stars fall silent, no one glows. But above us, God sees it, music, up there - / The train station trembles from the Aonid song. And again the air, torn by signals, / the violin air flowing into one another. (...) The iron world, it foams, foams with music - / I feel as if it is trembling all over - I stand in the glass corridor, lean back. / Where do you want to go? It is the funeral / of the shadow that went there. Once again there was music. (Ossip Mandelstam)

What should appear today as a touching overestimation: back then, fifteen years after the end of the Second World War, the poem was actually still considered a weapon in the intellectual struggle for survival of entire generations.

The writer and publisher Otto F. Walter once told me about the difficulties he had to contend with at the beginning of the sixties when he wanted to publish politically explosive books, but also only modern literature, at Walter-Verlag, a Swiss family business . Everything that appeared politically 'left' to the owners of the publishing house, including his own, albeit heavily Catholic, family, caused problems, some of them massive. However, when Walter published Ernst Jandl's first poems in 1964, the barrel had finally overflowed. It was about the later legendary collection "Laut und Luise", a classic meanwhile, with the poem that is proverbially known today:


/ some mean / left and right / - you can't / change. / what an illtum!

Otto F. Walter was kicked out of his own publishing house by his own family. He then went to Luchterhand as publishing director, along with his authors, including Bichsel, Heißenbüttel, Jandl.

It was the post-war years. Adenauerzeit. In Germany there was already talk of the economic miracle, but everywhere in the German cities the ruins were still visible, the mountains of rubble not yet removed. Twelve years of the Third Reich had left deep marks, not least in people's minds.

I fear that European fascism could also be seen as the triumph of common sense over reason. Often enough, starting with the book burnings, the Nazis were always successful in mobilizing popular sentiment, which they called "healthy", against the various manifestations of modern art. Even the later pinschers of the later Federal Chancellor Ludwig Erhard owe this mood.

During the Nazi regime, Germany was cut off from developments in modern times. After the war, the Germans not only had other worries, they also had little knowledge of the status and development of modern poetry.

In 1956 the Freiburg romanist Hugo Friedrich published his epochal study "The Structure of Modern Poetry. From Baudelaire to the Present". It was the first attempt ever to comprehensively describe the modernity of modern poetry over the past hundred years. First of all, Friedrich had to develop the categories with which the "structure" of the new poetry could be described. He did not understand structure to be a rigid structure, but what he called "typical commonality of different things". So the "commonality of lyrical poetry, which consists in the turning away from classical, romantic, naturalistic, declamatory traditions, precisely in their modernity". Incidentally, in the same year 1956 Peter Szondi had submitted his study, "Theory of Modern Drama", which later also became famous, with considerations from Ibsen to Arthur Miller. They were the first steps. Not more. The illustrative material was also largely missing.

In the appendix of his book Friedrich presented some examples, Eluard, T.S. Eliot, Garcia Lorca, Ungaretti, Benn. The literary scholar and poet Walter Höllerer put together a number of collections, including, together with Franz Mon "Movens", experimental poetry in the style of Dadaism.

It was not until 1960, fifteen years after the end of the Second World War, that the first real inventory of modern poetry appeared as a collection of texts: Hans Magnus Enzensberger's "Museum of Modern Poetry".

This "museum", which the then just thirty-year-old young poet, as he politely called it, had "set up", had to appear at once as a double provocation. With his first two volumes of poetry, "Defense of the Wolves" (1957) and Landesssprache "(1960), the author had already become known as an" angry young man. "Now he added a lot to the table "Loss of the middle", who demanded "overcoming nihilism" and even feared "the end of the modern age", while the most cunning opponents wanted to do away with modernity by declaring it antiquated in the name of tradition, came Enzensberger therefore, equating false applause with reactionary contradiction, celebrating a development and declaring it complete

He built an impressive monument, but at the same time put it in a museum. In doing so, however, he gave the German public a glimpse of the development of modern literature, from which Germany was cut off for almost three decades.

He presented the protagonists of modernity with their poems, which were written between 1910 and 1945, and participated in what he emphatically called "the world language of modern poetry".

The first volume of poetry by Ezra Pound was published in 1908, followed in 1909 by William Carlos Williams and Saint-John Perse, and in 1910 by the Russians Chlebnikov. Little of this had reached us.

Enzensberger presented poems from Rafael Alberti to Jiri Wolker, he introduced Mandelstamm and Majakowski, Kavafis, the Greeks, Nazim Hikmet, the Turks, the Portuguese Fernando Pessoa, the Mexican Octavio Paz, the German Expressionists, Ungaretti, Montale and Neruda, the Americans Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. Most of these poets were not even known by name in Germany in 1960. Of the three hundred and fifty-two poems - half of which are accessible in German for the first time -

Of the three hundred and fifty-two poems, hardly a single one could have appeared in print in Germany twenty years ago. Since their inception, they have never been freely accessible anywhere. No fascist author is represented in this museum; among its hundred authors only two have temporarily and confused themselves involved with barbarism.

Enzensberger emphasized that he had "strictly abstained from any previous ideological censorship". On the other hand, many of his protagonists had gone into exile, exiled, or were held in prisons and camps, killed or murdered. Already through such bio-bibliographical references something of the pathos of resistance becomes clear with which Enzensberger, and not only he, celebrated modern poetry.

The stroll through this museum was therefore a journey of discovery that was still quite adventurous for German readers.

At the same time, however, Enzensberger declared his collection to be historically closed. The concept of the museum was provocative. What seemed new to the Germans was, as he said somewhat flippantly, a hundred years old - modern poetry. She belongs to history.

Modern poetry here means: poetry after Whitman and Baudelaire, after Rimbaud and Mallarmé. The 'blades of grass' appeared in 1855, the 'flowers of evil' in 1857. Modernity was unequivocally and radiantly present in the work of these few, individual profound natures who stood like sealed wells in the second half of the last century and traded with Arcanis (Brentano). It was Rimbaud who made it an unconditional demand: Il faut etre absolument moderne!

Enzensberger notes the desire of this poetry for "its theory", but at the same time recognizes the endeavor to evade any theoretical taming.

The poetics of modern poetry will of course not be dealt with normatively, but at most can be shown descriptively. That is not the task of a museum, but rather that of its visitors and users. Before one can begin to describe their poetics, the texts themselves have to be made well known. That happens here without comment.

The world language of modern poetry should speak for itself. The poets of this epoch, which began before the First World War and ended with the Second, reached an unprecedented "agreement" among themselves and actually produced a world literature. So it is not an anthology, that is to say "blossom harvest", which presents the most beautiful, best, and most famous of the epoch, but rather the documentation of a process that Enzensberger was only able to describe only partially (and only inadequately).

Because: The theory of modernity was still pending.

The process of modern poetry leads, as can be seen from the texts of this museum, in at least thirty-five countries to results that challenge comparison upon comparison. In a word, it leads to the emergence of a poetic world language.

The establishment of this museum takes this fact into account. One country pavilion follows the other, not in the manner of a world exhibition. So it is neither structured by country nor by author, not even chronologically. The arrangement does not have a system either, but is the result of "free play with the texts" - until "a context" emerges from them, which also means a structure in ten chapters. Generic names, topics - that is, moments and places as well as complaints, characters and the course of time.

This process took modern poetry further and further away from its audience. The accusation of incomprehensibility hits. Not only because, as Enzensberger admits, Pindar and Geothe, ultimately all poems, are dark. Classical and modern art are characterized by contradiction. Only, says Enzensberger a little bit wet research, "the unbearability should not be admitted". Society has "created its own institutions" to defuse this explosive power of art. Such statements clearly show how far even Enzensberger was at that time from a concept of modernity. So to speak: how 'early' it was at all.

Adorno's essay "Requirements", which was later included in the "Notes on Literature", appeared for the first time in 1961 in the magazine "Akzente". Likewise his "attempt to understand the endgame". So important building blocks. Adorno had not even started the lectures on the aesthetics of modernity, which later became part of the "Aesthetic Theory".

In the "Prerequisites" Adorno now claims that the incomprehensibility of currently legitimate art is only the "consequence of something peculiar to art itself". (139) Understanding is what the "attempt to understand the endgame" says, meaning "nothing other than understanding its incomprehensibility, concretely reconstructing the context of the fact that it has none." (II, 190)

The provocation that emanates from contemporary art also carries out "the historical judgment about comprehensibility that has degenerated into misunderstanding". (III, 139)

With such remarks, Adorno, aware that -

triumphant mockery of all the well-thinking from "who" are already armed with the resolution to get excited about the fact that this is also expected of progressive and open-minded people too much. I can imagine the satisfaction with which some take from my words, so I wouldn't understand either. But I would like to warn against this comfortable triumph. In art - and, I would like to think, not only in art - history has retroactive force. The crisis of comprehensibility, which is far more acute today than it was fifty years ago, is also sweeping older works into itself. If one insists on what intelligibility of art actually means, one would have to repeat the discovery that it deviates significantly from understanding as the rational conception of whatever is meant.

Correspondingly, Enzensberger also claimed that the layout of his museum was "required" by the texts. However, it contradicts a main principle of modern poetics. "Exclude the real, it's mean. (Mallarmé)

The poet has no object. (Reverdy)

There is no other object for poetry than the poet himself. (Benn)

Modern poetry insists on pure form against the traditional fabric lifting, which at that time still casually led to the popular question of what the poet had to say to us. With the punch line, of course, which Adorno first clearly stated, namely: that the "formalism turns out to be true realism". Translated a bit flatly: in the abstraction processes of art show the "real abstraction" of society. Realism in art has "become ideology". (III, 145) With the procedures "which mirror the real according to the instructions", a "nonexistent reconciliation of reality with the subject" is simulated.

In art - and not only in art - history has "retroactive force," said Adorno. The increase in historical experience actually changes the past. It may seem paradoxical if this insight is related to the context from which it itself arose. Enzensberger's "Museum of Modern Poetry" has made history itself, had a canon-building effect. The "museum" was, as it were, in the process of modernity. In this sense, it also went into it. The latest new discoveries that Enzensberger was able to present have long been part of the traditional inventory. But the reverse has also had an effect on the present. What was "dark" at that time has, as it were, been illuminated by the course of history. The changes in all our modes of perception and reaction, which Walter Benjamin was able to make visible at the beginning of modernity, in Baudelaire, have become second nature to us, no different from the editing and assembly techniques that once disturbed the audience as they do to us today irritate the reaction pattern at the time.

That means: modernity itself has become tradition. Today it is called accordingly: Classic Modernism. The provocation of the new has been used up. The new was considered a central category of modern poetry. Naturally it fed on the 19th century's concept of progress, so it charged the last verse with the pathos of a philosophy of history that could never shake its teleological mortgage. It was Enzensbergers himself who took up these ideas again, ironically broken them and then finally adopted them. His verse epic about the "sinking of the Titanic" plays the old melody again, slightly wistfully, and then lets it fade away, very softly. The epoch threshold that is marked in what Enzensberger called it "comedy" was perhaps not even noticeable at the time. In the meantime, the new has grown old and there is no longer any talk of progress.

The Museum of Modern Poetry was still to be understood as a process over four decades ago when it was first exhibited. Today it shows what is deeply opposed to its facility, but corresponds to its title as a museum.